Millennium Post

A whiff of secularism

An illustrious and dynamic Hindu-Muslim couple and a family tree since undivided India

Very few people knew that a Hindu-Muslim couple with roots in Hyderabad and Rajasthan's's Alwar occupied pivotal positions as scientists in the government organisations before and after independence. They were none other than Dr Sultana Zulfiquar Ali and Dr MS Iyengar. Their first jobs were in the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research's Regional Research Laboratory, Hyderabad. Both were then posted to CSIR's Central Fuel Research Institute, Jharia (near Dhanbad). MS Iyengar was also the Director and Officer Special Duty to the Ministry of Defence during late Krishna Menon's time as Defence Minister on deputation.

On the evening of May 15, we had a small get-together with erstwhile Satyam Computers leader Dr Balaji Utla, NGO Shashi, his brother Ravi and Ravi's daughter Anshula in Shashi's house in Hyderabad's Srinagar Colony. There I met an old friend from Delhi, Vinod Asad Iyengar and his wife Mrs Abha. Though I have known Vinod, who was introduced to me by late Dr AP Ranga Rao and Dr Balaji, prime architects of 108 and 104 Medical Services, for nearly 10 years, I did not know much about his highly interesting personal background except as an associate of Health Management and Research Institute where I worked as a consultant. The discussion however rotated around his illustrious family background and his family roots in Hyderabad as well as his childhood experiences in Jawaharlal Nehru's house playing with Late Sanjay Gandhi.

Vinod's mother, late Dr Sultana Zulfiquar Ali, popularly known as Dr S Iyengar, belonging to the family of a Persian migrant to Hyderabad, a couple of generations ago, was born and brought up in Hyderabad. Her father Syed Zulfiqar Ali was the Chief of Army for the King of Alwar. Colonel Syed Zulfiqar Ali was officially titled as the Maharajah of Alwar, Honorary Colonel Sir Jai Singh Prabhakar Bahadur's "Camp Commander".

It's very interesting to know as to how many generations from Sultana Zulfiqar Ali's side have been in India! According to sources close to Vinod's family friends, her ancestors came to India during the Mughals' days. After some fierce battle, one of Vinod's forefathers, who was in their army, was rewarded with a rather large tract of land near Alwar in a place called 'Pahari' (in today's Alwar District). This leads to the assumption that Sultana Zulfiqar Ali's family belonged to Alwar.

Alwar, 150 kilometres south of Delhi and north of Jaipur, is a city in India's National Capital Region and the administrative headquarters of Alwar District in the state of Rajasthan. Alwar is a hub of tourism with several forts, lakes, heritage havelis and nature reserves. Pahari is a village in Alwar district and belongs to Jaipur Division. Syed Zulfiqar Ali's family returned to Hyderabad after the British found out the King of Alwar was funding Congress, and forced him to abandon his army.

Maharajah Jai Singh was forced into exile by the British - allegedly for 'misrule' in the early 1930s. According to Vinod, it was their euphuism for anti-colonial activities (it is said that the real reason was that the Maharajah was funding Congress's freedom struggle). Incidentally, the British replaced him with a remotely related cousin, Sir Tej Singh Prabhakar, who was a Hindu Nationalist and the President of the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha until 1947. However, he was never given any real power until just before India's Independence.

Vinod's father was Late Dr MS Iyengar. His parents met in England just after World War II (they studied at Leeds University), courtesy of NGO Shashi's mother, and his father's sister, Saroja Acharya. The ladies met on the ship to England and shared a cabin. MS Iyengar and Sultana Zulfiqar Ali fell in love in England and got married in The Hanging Gardens, Mumbai, in 1951.

Around 1960, Vinod's father was deputed as Director, Special Duty to the Ministry of Defence, to work under Late VK Krishna Menon, the then Defence Minister of India, in New Delhi. Vinod's mother was also deputed to New Delhi to the Ministry's Defence Science Laboratories (now known as DRDO). After Krishna Menon's resignation following a war with China, Vinod's parents returned to CSIR. In 1966, his father was posted as Director, Regional Research Laboratory, Jorhat (Assam) and his mother was posted to the National Physical Laboratory, New Delhi (she retired in 1982 as NPL's Deputy Director). Vinod's father passed away in 2008 and his mother in 2012.

Vinod was born in Lahore while his mother went there to spend time with her relatives. His parents named him Vinod Asad suffixing Iyengar, the family name. While Vinod Asad Iyengar was a child of seven-eight, he used to accompany his father when he was suddenly called to a meeting with Jawahar Lal Nehru and Krishna Menon, in the late evening or early morning, and his mother happened to be out of the station. Those days Menon was almost a regular visitor to Nehru's place, being the closest person to him. A peon was given the task of keeping him safe in the lawns and sometimes, they found toys to keep little Vinod occupied. Vinod still remembers those days playing with the toys of Sanjay Gandhi often to his anger.

Vinod Iyengar has two children, Radhika and Adil. His wife Abha is an internationally published author and poet. His son Adil is a practising architect. His daughter Radhika has a Master's degree in Journalism from New York's Columbia University and is the Arts Editor with Mint Lounge - a publication of the Hindustan Times group.

Vinod's sister Azra Iyengar migrated to the US and passed away long back. He continues to stay in Delhi with his family but frequents Hyderabad to meet his friends and incidentally, he is now attempting to find out more details about his parents' roots and early days in Hyderabad in detail. Let us wish him all the best.

(The author is Chief Public Relations Officer to Chief Minister of Telangana. The views expressed are strictly personal)

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